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Bird's Blog

Poetry, musings, observations, commentary, rants, confessions...and who knows what else!

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Location: San Francisco Bay Area

Teacher, writer, poet, grandmother, lover, wine-drinker, chocolate eater, beach comber, hiker, traveler, Giants fan, San Franciscan. All work on this blog is copyrighted material.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Breaking Protocol

She could be a model. She wants to become an airline steward and travel the world. She lives in a tiny apartment in the Tenderloin with her mother, who is an airline steward. Though she has lived abroad, knows financial hardship well, and witnesses the despair and grittiness of the Tenderloin every day, she still has a girlish innocence to her.

While she thinks outside the box – quickly going far below the surface of an issue, making connections between ideas that no one else in the class makes, she is failing the course. Her papers are a consistent and beautiful disarray of provocative ideas, logical arguments, and bizarre twists and turns into intriguing explorations of tangential issues – completely fascinating yet unrelated to her thesis. I am sure she has learning disabilities; I know she has Attention Deficit Disorder and often tunes out – she might be hunting for some scrap of paper upon which she scribbled down a question she had to ask – but while she’s hunting for that bit of paper, we are on a totally different topic and she misses out on new information. She might be fishing through her large leather purse for a cough drop and a tissue for a classmate with a runny nose and cough, but while she’s doing that, we are working on sentence structure and she misses the review of the main principles of sentence focus.

I’m sure too that her distraction often leads her into trouble –because others (and I’ve caught myself doing this as well) misinterpret the distraction as willful disregard for the situation at hand. And I’m sure too that sometimes her mother doesn’t care that the distraction is caused by ADD – the cause of the behavior sometimes becomes irrelevant – it’s the outcome that matters. And at her age, she should have by now developed some compensatory skills to keep her on track. I know this because my son has ADHD and I reached that point with him – the point where you must learn how to manage your ailment – you must be responsible for mitigating the ill effects over which you actually do have some measure of control.

Yesterday, she arrived early to class (unheard of, she is usually late) wearing very large, dark sunglasses (also unusual), but I could see how puffy her face was underneath, she had been crying – and hard – and for some time.

She asked to speak with me in the hallway and out we went. She was trembling and tears rolled down her face in a steady stream. I’ve had students break down on me before, but never with this intensity. I couldn’t be a teacher any more. I could not maintain a safe distance (safe for me – if I take on every emotional crisis of every student, I would never survive – and I am not any student’s mother, aunt, sister, counselor, therapist, friend – I am their teacher and that is how I can best help them – by teaching them how to write, how to question, how to dig deeper). I immediately put my arms around her, patted her on the shoulder, held her tight, smoothed her hair, as if she were my baby girl. I held her like this for several minutes, until her trembling subsided and she could speak clearly. She was on her way to see a therapist on campus but wanted me to know why she wouldn’t be in class, why she didn’t have the essay due. Her life is falling apart – has been really for the whole semester – but the crisis has struck now. Her mother kicked her out of their studio apartment and she is unsure where she will go, where she will sleep. I’m sure that when she calms down, she’ll find a girlfriend willing to take her in. I resist the urge to offer her a port in this storm for the weekend. I cannot take in a student.

I calm her down, tell her that right now, I am not her teacher, just a concerned adult friend and we can save the discussion about her schoolwork for later – now is not the time – her crisis takes priority. I ask if she wants me to walk her to the counseling department but she shakes her head. I hug her one more time, brush the hair away from her forehead and kiss her as I would my own daughter – a breach in protocol with such profound ramifications that it scares me.


Blogger boneman said...

Go back to the movie, Pirates of the Caribbean where Captain Barbossa tells Elizabeth, "Well, the Rules are really more like Guidelines...."

We all know the reason for the rules, but, you have, indeed, found one of those nitches where they are not covered.
Good job, an A+ for the teacher for being a human being at a time when the girl needed a human being.

(Now, about my assignment?....the dog ate it?)

April 30, 2009 9:29 AM  
Blogger Jack K. said...

My dear bird, you did what needed to be done. How could you have done otherwise? You are a caring, sensitive human being first, who happens to be a teacher. You are the epitome of what a teacher must be. You care!

I like boneman's reference to the the Pirates of the Caribbean. There are all kinds of rules. Unfortunately some of them get in the way.

Your story brings me close to tears. As an inveterate problem solver, I am tempted to come up with all kinds of solutions for this young lady. However, she will find the solution that works best for her.

Please keep us informed of her growth. Let her know that there are folks who do care what happens to her. We know she will choose the path she must walk.

You do swoosh good, bird, you do swoosh good.

April 30, 2009 11:43 AM  
Blogger Bird said...

Many thanks for the supportive comments.

I had asked this student to email me- to let me know that she had followed up with her therapist and that she was doing ok - and she has done that. I hope to see her in class today.

May 01, 2009 6:49 AM  
Blogger LeftLeaningLady said...

Wow, you are amazing. You handled that 100% correctly, please do not doubt yourself. You gave her reassurance and did not offer her a place to stay. You struck the perfect balance and both of your lives (and those of us who visit here) are richer for it.

May 04, 2009 7:43 AM  
Blogger Jack K. said...

Thanks for the update. Let her know she is not alone. There are folks who do care. You are just the one she has contact with at the moment.

May 04, 2009 1:01 PM  
Anonymous chickory said...

bird you are a generous spirit and a good friend. thanks for you well wishes for trout. greatly appreciated. xo

May 05, 2009 7:10 AM  
Blogger Sarah Sofia Ganborg said...

You really are a very nice person and it's wonderful that you are so supportive to that girl!

Mind you, I don't really believe in ADD and the like, there is usually a different cause behind it, like with taht girl, do you know what she's taking and what her diet is like? And that mother of hers and someone else might really have made her life hell...
I remember some kids from the school where I have been teaching and tehre was usually something like that behind the attention deficit disorder. So it can be fixed - without drugs and I would be rweally careful with a therapist. Some are good p+eople, but many do just medicate and have no clue of how to find the real problem and what to do about that.

May 06, 2009 10:56 AM  

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